Food can be labeled in mysterious ways. Don’t take ANYTHING for granted. Watch out for these dirty tricks and deceptive phrases.
1 - No Sugar Added
No sugar added does not mean sugar free. Many fruit products like juices and gummy treats say "no-added-sugar" because all of the sugar comes from fruit juice. Many times it’s actually fruit juice concentrate. This concentrated fructose is a form of sugar. It leads to the same health problems when eaten in excess as regular sugar.
2 - Small Serving Sizes
Serving sizes can be incredibly confusing. To make a product look low in calories or fat, tiny serving sizes are often used. Most cooking spray oils are canola oil in a spray can, NOT magic zero calorie sprays. Its mind blowing that they advertise fat-free cooking when they're made of fat. Ounce-for-ounce spray oils have the same amount of calories as any other fat. But, servings sizes are a mere ¼ to ⅓ of a second and 2 to 4 calories. By law companies are allowed to round down products containing less than 5 calories per serving to 0 calories per serving. A lot of people have no idea and spray it for 4 or 5 seconds (16-20 “servings”). This adds up. You can get an extra 32-80 calories per spray.
Foods with less than 5 calories meet the definition of “calorie free” and any differences are dietary insignificant. The caloric value of a product containing less than 5 calories may be expressed as zero.1
3 - All Natural
All natural doesn’t really mean that much. The picture of Pam above says all natural in green print at the top of the label but the actual product doesn't contain natural ingredients. In fact, the FDA doesn't even define the term natural. The FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.2
This means there’s a lot of room for interpretation. Companies generally use it for foods that don’t contain added colors, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. Some meats are labeled natural but loaded with preservatives or sodium. A few natural products contain the very unnatural high fructose corn syrup. Check the ingredient list to see exactly what's in your "all natural" products.
4 - Zero Trans Fat
Just because a label says 0 grams of trans fat per serving doesn’t mean it actually has 0 grams. When you have multiple servings of a particular food, you can get a noticeable amount of trans fat added to your diet. Check for trans fats hidden under names like hydrogenated oils on the ingredient list. If a company uses a small serving size with 0.49g of trans fat per serving then they can list it at 0. According to the FDA, because the fat content is present at a level below 0.5 g, it can be listed as 0 grams on the label.3
6 - Free Range or Free Roaming
Although a food label may say free range/roaming chicken, don’t assume the chicken are happily scampering around outside. The laws on free-range labeling are so badly worded they are practically don't exist. Free range or roaming means that chicken have exposure to the outdoors. No requirements are given for the amount, duration, or quality of outdoor access. 4 In reality, the average bird has little to no chance of roaming free outside like nature intended. The door can be a few inches in diameter. It may only allow one chicken or the chickens nearest to the exit (in a sea of thousands) access to the outdoor enclosure. And the "outdoor enclosure" may just be a mud pit, and often it is. Be sure to look into the farm where you get your chickens to make sure they are doing things the right way.
7 - Made With Real Fruit
Products that claim to be made with real fruit often contain little actual fruit or even none of the type pictured on the box. Companies do not have to disclose the percentage of ingredients, such as fruits and whole grain in their products. In 2012, a class-action lawsuit was filed over Fruit Roll-Ups strawberry flavor which didn’t contain any strawberries, just pear concentrate. In late December 2012, General Mills and CSPI resolved the lawsuit. According to CSPI, General Mills agreed that, so long as strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups contain no actual strawberries, it would refrain from depicting strawberries on the label. Further, so long as that product’s label contains the “made with real fruit claim,” it will include the percentage of fruit in the product. For its part, General Mills said “we disagree with CSPI on the merit and substance of the case, but we both agreed to resolve the matter to avoid further litigation.”5